Do You REALLY Have To Cool Down After A Workout?

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cooldownembeddedPhotographed By Geordy Pearson.
Whether it's before work, during a lunch break, or after a long day at the office, fitting in a gym session can put you in a major time crunch. With our crazy-busy schedules, we may opt to keep going full speed through the treadmill’s five-minute cooldown phase rather than "waste the time" slowing down. I mean, that’s what the commute home is for, right?

Wrong. This week, in light of yesterday’s Boston Marathon, the elusive cooldown — continuing to exercise at a lower intensity after a workout — is especially relevant. Yesterday, The Boston Globe discussed workout recovery after long distance runs. Their consensus? Cooldowns are a crucial step and shouldn’t be skipped — or runners may face nausea and dizziness when blood pools in their muscles rather than circulating back to the heart. Yesterday, sports physiologist Ross Tucker, PhD, expressed a slightly different opinion in a Q&A on The New York Times’ Well blog. While the common theory holds that cooling down helps muscles flush out lactate (a compound found in the blood after intense exercise), Dr. Tucker pointed out that this has little to do with muscle soreness.

While the jury may still be out on cooldowns, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that adding a warm-up to your routine is a very, very good idea; they've been shown to improve performance, potentially reduce the incidence of injury, and slightly lessen next-day muscle soreness.

Taking time to cool down today may not make it easier to get out of bed tomorrow, but it’s probably still a good idea to take a couple minutes to walk or jog, catch your breath, and let your blood circulation get back to normal; Dr. Tucker said this can help prevent dizziness or fainting. Plus, there’s no strong evidence a cooldown has any negative effects on performance, soreness, or overall health — so if it's an integral part of your workout routine, have at it! We’re curious, though: Would you rather squeeze in an extra five to ten minutes of heart-pumping exercise, or do you prefer to savor the cooldown?